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9/11 Panel Issues Poor Grades For U.S. Response to Terrorism

By Philip Shenon
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The members of the Sept. 11 commission gave dismal grades to the Bush administration and Congress on Monday in measuring the government’s recent efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil, concluding that the government deserved many more F’s and D’s than A’s.

The commissioners awarded the grades in a privately financed “report card” that found that, four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation remained alarmingly vulnerable to terrorist strikes, including attacks by terrorists with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

“While the terrorists are learning and adopting, our government is still moving at a crawl,” said Thomas H. Kean, the commission’s chairman and a former Republican governor of New Jersey. “Many obvious steps that the American people assume have been completed, have not been. Our leadership is distracted.”

The new report by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a private group established by the commission’s five Republicans and five Democrats when the panel formally went out of business last year, graded the government’s response to the 41 recommendations made in the commission’s final report 17 months ago.

There were 17 F’s or D’s — including an F to Congress for its failure to allocate the domestic antiterrorism budget on the basis of risk and a D for the government’s effort to track down and secure nuclear material that could be used by terrorists. There was only one A — and it was an A-minus, awarded for the government’s efforts to stem the financing of terrorist networks.

With release of the report, the commissioners announced that they were shutting down the Public Discourse Project, which had represented an unusual private effort by members of a federal commission to retain some political viability and lobby for their recommendations.

The White House, which often tangled with the Sept. 11 commission during its official investigation, defended its performance in dealing with terrorist threats, insisting it had acted on most of the panel’s recommendations.

“We have taken significant steps to better protect the American people at home,” said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. “There is more to do. This is the president’s highest responsibility.”

To the likely disappointment of the White House, however, the commission’s Republicans issued some of the harshest criticism of the administration and Congress heard at a news conference to release the report on Monday.

“The American people ought to demand answers,” said James R. Thompson, a Republican commissioner and a former Illinois governor. “Why aren’t our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives? What’s the rationale? What’s the excuse? There is no excuse.”

Thompson joined with other commissioners in offering special criticism of Congress for having failed to ensure that the billions of dollars distributed by the federal government each year in domestic security funds are divided up on the basis of risk, instead of pork-barrel politics that often sends money to remote areas where there is little danger of terrorist attack.